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Department of Genetics


Scientists from the Department of Genetics, in collaboration with the Hubrecht Institute in The Netherlands, have developed a new model to study an early stage of human development, using human embryonic stem cells. The model resembles some key elements of an embryo at around 18-21 days old and allows the researchers to observe the processes underlying the formation of the human body plan never directly observed before. Understanding these processes holds potential to reveal the causes of human birth defects and diseases in human embryos.

human embryo and human gastruloid

Image above: Comparison between a 20 day old human embryo and a human gastruloid. Left; False-coloured Carnegie Stage 9 human embryo, with additional brain/neural folds and extraembryonic tissues (not coloured). Right; False-coloured 72h human gastruloid. Colouring indicates estimated similarity of gene expression profiles. Human embryo image courtesy of Kathleen Kay Sulik.


Published today in the journal Nature [] , the report describes a method of using human embryonic stem cells to generate a three-dimensional assembly of cells, called gastruloids, which differentiate into three layers organised in a manner that resembles the early human body plan.

“Our model produces part of the blueprint of a human,” said Professor Alfonso Martinez-Arias from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Genetics, who led the study. “It’s exciting to witness the developmental processes that until now have been hidden from view - and from study.”

A full press release can be found here.

Do you have questions about gastruloids? A list of FAQ's have been provided as well as the background on human gastruloids.